From catwalks to news, Pakistan's transgender community aims to shift attitudes

    by Zofeen T. Ebrahim | Thomson Reuters Foundation
    Monday, 26 March 2018 16:14 GMT

    Marvia Malik, at the Kohenoor television studio, in Lahore, Pakistan. Picture taken March 25, 2018/Thomson Reuters Foundation/Zile Huma

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    Pakistan is becoming more tolerant of transgender people but the country's first transgender news anchor says there's still a long way to go

    By Zofeen T. Ebrahim

    KARACHI, Pakistan, March 26 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - As the first transgender news anchor in Pakistan, Marvia Malik is proud to be at the forefront of changing attitudes in her country but she says there is a long way to go.

    The news of her first appearance on local channel Kohenoor TV on Saturday went viral on social media and was just days after she became the first transgender model on the catwalk at the annual Pakistan Fashion Design Council fashion show.

    Her catapult into the spotlight came after transgender activist Zara Changezi was named as star of a love film, the Senate passed a bill to protect transgender people, and a Pakistani province agreed to an X gender on driving licences.

    Malik, 21, said she had lost count of the positive telephone calls and messages she had received for her new role which was a major contrast to previous years when she battled to survive.

    "I got a lot of appreciation from those associated with the fashion industry when I did catwalk modelling two weeks back, and now this ... it's quite overwhelming," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

    "I was thrown out after (10th grade) after which I joined a beauty salon, earned just about enough to put myself through college, but it was not easy. My story is no different from that of a hijra on the street you see begging."

    Many "hijras" - which includes transvestites, transsexuals and eunuchs - in Pakistan, as well as other South Asian nations such as India and Bangladesh, are attacked, murdered, raped or forced to work as sex workers, dancers, or beggars.

    For although transgender people technically enjoy better rights in Pakistan than in many other nations, in practice they are marginalized and face discrimination in education and jobs.

    However campaigners said there were signs of progress in the conservative South Asian nation where homosexuality is a crime.

    The Supreme Court ruled in 2009 hijras could get national identity cards as a "third sex" and last year the government issued its first passport with a transgender category.

    The transgender community was counted in the national census for the first time last year, recording 10,418 in a population of about 207 million although many said this was too low. Charity Trans Action Pakistan estimates there are at least half a million transgender people in the country.


    Earlier this month the Senate unanimously approved a bill to protect the rights of transgender people which, once passed by both houses, means transgender people will no longer have to appear before a medical board to confirm their gender.

    Meanwhile the government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa - one of Pakistan's four provinces where there was a spate of attacks on transgender people in 2016 - issued driving licences to transgender people marked with an X in gender.

    "Getting a driving permit will not only be a proof of identity but open another livelihood avenue, for instance, finding employment in cab companies," said Qamar Naseem of Peshawar-based Blue Veins that lobbies for transgender people.

    Sana Yasir, an intersex educator and physician, said Pakistan was becoming more tolerant of transgender people but acceptance was not yet widespread with many people confusing gender identity with sexual orientation.

    "(People) assume being trans means one has a certain orientation, and harness hate against homosexuals, which then shows in their transphobic behaviour," Yasir said.

    While Malik is happy that the government is slowly bringing the community into the mainstream, she said the only way to get meaningful change if is "change begins at home".

    "We have to tell parents not to be ashamed of their kids who cannot conform to the sex assigned at birth," she said, adding that transgender people were often thrown out by their families.

    "We are left with no option but to turn to begging, dancing and selling our bodies."

    (Reporting by Zofeen Ebrahim, Editing by Belinda Goldsmith @BeeGoldsmith

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    In traffic-tied Nairobi, the way forward may be on foot

    by Kagondu Njagi | @DavidNjagi | Thomson Reuters Foundation
    Friday, 6 April 2018 09:00 GMT

    Pedestrians walk to and from central Nairobi along a tree-linked sidewalk near the Serena hotel, April 3, 2018. Thomson Reuters Foundation/Kagondu Njagi

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    Fed up with traffic and worried about pollution, more middle class Nairobi residents are leaving their cars at home

    By Kagondu Njagi

    NAIROBI, April 6 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - It is dawn along the Waiyaki Way highway on the northwest side of Nairobi, but the road into town is already packed with traffic of every stripe.

    As a 14-seater van skids into a bus stop, a young man in denim jeans and a yellow sweatshirt peels out the door, beckoning to passengers looking for a ride to town.

    The more energetic ones shove their way through the crowd to the vehicle's doorway. But only one pair manage to squeeze into the two empty passenger seats. Restlessly, the others pull back to wait for the next passenger vehicle.

    But nearby, a smiling Mercy Njoroge walks briskly by on her own more efficient transport system: Her feet.

    Njoroge, a mid-career accountant, is among a growing number of the city's workers who are opting to walk to work, both to avoid the daily traffic scramble and because they want to cut air pollution caused by vehicle emissions.

    "I have a car but I only use it during weekends because there are fewer people and traffic going into the city," Njoroge said in an interview with the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

    "My choice to walk to and from work was inspired by the need to do something about the environment and pollution that is ailing our city," she said.

    She walks an impressive eight kilometers each day between her home and her office, at an organisation that lobbies to protect maids and other household workers. But a growing share of Nairobi residents are similarly taking to their feet, though usually over shorter distances.

    According to the Nairobi county environment department, the city's middle class is increasingly showing an interest in protecting the environment – and avoiding traffic – with at least one in 10 middle class commuters now walking to work instead of driving.

    "This is in solidarity to cutting air pollution," said Mahmoud Dagane, a county executive committee member who has worked on environment and transport issues, at the January launch of a Nairobi beautification programme.

    More Kenyans living within five kilometers of their jobs need to walk or ride a bicycle to work to reduce the amount of traffic on Nairobi's roads, he said.

    Pedestrians wait to cross Waiyaki Way on the northwest side of Nairobi, Kenya on March 22, 2018. Thomson Reuters Foundation/Kagondu Njagi


    Nairobi's need to get more people out of vehicles is evident in a place where perpetual traffic snarls are a major source of frustration and pollution.

    From Waiyaki Way highway, a smoggy blanket is visible hanging over downtown Nairobi's tall buildings, and pockets of trees along the road are covered with traffic soot. Occasionally a pedestrian lets out a dry cough as fumes waft from slow-moving vehicles.

    According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), 6.5 million people die annually around the world due to poor air quality.

    A 2016 report on the costs of air pollution in Africa, by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), estimated that premature deaths from outdoor air pollution cost African nations $215 billion in 2013.

    At a press conference in March in Nairobi, Rob De Jong, the head of UNEP's mobility unit, said transport contributes over half of outdoor air pollution in African cities.

    "This is made worse because Africa continues to import old vehicles which are known to be heavy emitters of pollutants," he said. He said a ban should be put in place on importing vehicles over 15 years old.

    The number of vehicles on Kenya's roads is increasing, with more than 7,000 a month added in Nairobi alone, or about 90,000 a year, according to the National Transport and Safety Authority (NTSA), a government agency.

    A polluting bus travels on a route out of Nairobi, March 22, 2018. Thomson Reuters Foundation/Kagondu Njagi


    Delegates to an Africa Clean Mobility Week event held in Nairobi last month recommended that African countries, including Kenya, begin using more hybrid vehicles – which combine clean electric power with traditional fuel – to cut pollution.

    Kenya already has reduced the consumption of fuel with high levels of polluting sulphur by tightening diesel import laws, said Jane Akumu, who works on promoting clean fuels and vehicles for Africa at U.N. Environment.

    But simpler solutions – such as more walking and cycling – are a more sustainable way to cut traffic pollution, she said.

    Over half of Kenyans already walk or ride a bicycle as transport, Akumu said, but face tough conditions, including a lack of safe and pleasant pathways that avoid traffic.

    "Why doesn't the country have good infrastructure for walking and cycling?" she asked.

    She suggested Kenya build separate lanes along highways for people walking and riding bicycles, preferably lined with fruit trees to provide shade and even an occasional snack.

    "This can enable Kenya to save in terms of the fuel import bill and also contribute to reduce forces that cause climate change," Akumu said. "These are the kind of innovations that countries can introduce."

    (Reporting by Kagondu Njagi ; editing by Laurie Goering : (Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, climate change, resilience, women's rights, trafficking and property rights. Visit

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